The Guardian newspaper in the UK reports that a charity bingo hall in a suburb of Los Angeles in the United States has generated millions of dollars for Jewish settlements in disputed territory in the Middle East through regular nightly sessions over the past 20 years.
The Hawaiian Gardens charity sessions pay the winner in each game $500, but some of the profits from the enterprise fund Jewish settlements on Palestinian-claimed land in some of the most sensitive areas of occupied East Jerusalem, particularly the Muslim quarter of the old city, and West Bank towns such as Hebron, The Guardian reports.
The bingo operation is apparently owned by an American doctor and millionaire, Irving Moskowitz, claims Haim Dov Beliak, a rabbi serving Hawaiian Gardens and one of the Jewish religious leaders in California who have campaigned to block the flow of funds to the settlers.
"The money Moskowitz puts in to the settlements has changed the game. Moskowitz has helped build a hardcore of the settler movement that may number 50-70 000," Beliak told The Guardian.
"He's not paying for all of it but he puts the money up front for the vanguards that get things off the ground. That ties Israel's hands. That ties the hands of the Obama administration. If the administration wants to be serious about stopping the settlers it has to begin in Hawaiian Gardens."
The newspaper reports that Moskowitz is an 80-year-old retired doctor and millionaire who built a fortune buying and selling hospitals. In 1988 he also bought the faltering bingo hall in Hawaiian Gardens which, under California law, can only be run as a not-for-profit operation, so Moskowitz brought it under the wing of a charitable foundation he had established in his own name.
The foundation bills the bingo operation as of great benefit to the local community through donations to a number of groups, such as the Hawaiian Gardens food bank, as well as scholarships. It has also given money for disaster relief in Central America, Kosovo and parts of the US.
But tax returns show that the bulk of the donations go to what the foundation describes as "charitable support" to an array of organisations in Israel.
"The loss of many of Dr Moskowitz's relatives during the Holocaust strengthened his conviction that Israel must be maintained as a safe haven for Jewish people from all over the world. In Israel, the Foundation supports a wide array of religious, educational, cultural and emergency services organisations," the foundation says on its website.
Beliak calculates that the foundation has given Jewish settlers well over GBP 100 million, beginning with the construction 20 years ago of 133 houses on land allegedly confiscated from Palestinians by the Israeli government.
Beliak helped launch the Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens & Jerusalem to stop the flow of money from the bingo hall to the settlements. Its investigations of tax records show that the Moskowitz Foundation's donations include grants to Beit Hadassah, a militant Jewish settlement in the heart of the West Bank city of Hebron. The foundation has also given more than GBP 3.5 million to Ateret Cohanim, a right wing group that houses Jews in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's old city.
Now Moskowitz is building a much bigger bingo hall in Hawaiian Gardens which will increase the flow of cash. But there may be a political storm to weather, too.
The Guardian reports that Rabbi Beliak is particularly angered that the fundraising takes place without interference from the American authorities. In contrast, he says, Muslim charities which raise money to help Palestinians have been targeted for investigation and shut down.
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"After 2001 there was a whole discourse about how supposedly Muslims [in America] used these charitable donations to support violence," says Beliak. "There was never ever in the US anything substantially that made that case. But here they did have a case where somebody was using money to support settlers, money that fosters extremism and violence, and they completely ignored it."
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